South-central Lincoln has emerged as one of the key legislative election battlegrounds this year, as a Republican and a Democrat battle to represent a marginally Republican district with a GOP political history that has been represented by a Democrat for the last eight years.
Nebraska's unique one-house Legislature is nonpartisan, but that doesn't mean that party affiliation does not matter at election time or that parties remain on the sidelines, especially in competitive races.
Jacob Campbell, 29, who has been a child-abuse investigator for the state and most recently a legislative staff member, ran out front in a crowded six-candidate primary election field for District 29 last May by a scant 650 votes. He's a Republican.
Eliot Bostar, 33, executive director of Conservation Nebraska and Nebraska Conservation Voters, finished second. He's a Democrat and quick to note that candidates who are Democrats won about 58% of the total vote in that nonpartisan primary election field.
Sen. Kate Bolz is being term-limited out of the legislative seat and is now the Democratic nominee for the 1st District House seat. Her initial legislative victory in 2012 ended a GOP string of District 29 senators, including Mike Foley, Tony Fulton and LaVon Crosby, all big Republican names.
The most recent voter registration figures demonstrate how competitive the district is: 11,078 Republicans; 10,159 Democrats; 6,041 nonpartisans.
If Campbell has the edge in terms of registration figures and primary election votes — and clearly in the number of yard signs — Bostar appears to be armed with a campaign funding advantage, with the most recent Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission filings suggesting a 2-to-1 financial edge.
Jumble all of that together, and you've got a highly competitive battlefield.
It's also a contest that will test the conventional wisdom that suggests the most effective way to campaign for a legislative seat is taking your message door-to-door, meeting and conversing with people where they live.
Citing the health dangers posed by possible exposure to the coronavirus pandemic, Bostar has decided not to campaign door-to-door. Campbell is doing so and says that both he and his would-be constituents are wearing masks and practicing social distancing, sometimes even talking through a window.
But both candidates are aggressively pursuing what is regarded as the second-most effective campaign option in legislative races: delivering their messages by direct mail through targeted advertising.
Mailers sponsored by the political parties go on the negative attack, dragging Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Green New Deal, Joe Biden and Donald Trump into the race.
Yard signs dot lawns throughout the neighborhoods — and some mysteriously disappear.
Campbell describes himself as "conservative, but practical," and says he would like to focus on education and tax reform.
"We need a new school funding formula that delivers dollars where they are needed," he says, and state school aid needs to be sustainable and reliable.
Campbell, co-owner of a rental property management company, would like to gain a seat on the Legislature's Education Committee if he is elected.
Tax reform should "recognize that the economy has changed dramatically," he says.
The state's sales tax system contains dozens of exemptions for services that drive the modern economy while relying heavily on local property taxes to provide the bulk of funding for K-12 schools.
Any changes should provide "protections for items like gas and groceries, especially after the COVID crisis," Campbell says.
Bostar says he recognizes that door-to-door canvassing is the most valuable campaign activity in terms of winning votes, "but I'm not going to put the health of the community at risk to further a political campaign."
So he's "making lots of phone calls" as the next-best alternative.
Bostar, who was an adviser in the New York governor's office during and after the 2008 recession, helping close a $15 billion budget deficit, identifies his top three issues as health care, the environment and education.
If elected, he would like to gain a seat on the Legislature's Natural Resources Committee.
"I've been engaged in environmental and conservation issues across the state for nearly eight years," he said.
"The environment isn't the priority now in the Legislature," Bostar said. "So, one of the real challenges is to bring people together (to) focus on that and make real progress."
Water quality, in particular, is a big issue that needs to be addressed, he said, with Nebraska now experiencing "the most impaired groundwater in the country."
The 2020 Journal Star general election Voter's Guide
Your guide to Lincoln-area and statewide races and ballot questions that will appear on the Nov. 3 general election ballot. Click on a race name to see the candidates and learn about their views on the issues.
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